Patience as a Leadership Asset in Turbulent Times

In today’s high-paced world, the predisposition for most leaders I’ve encountered is to take quick, decisive action. I’ve heard many say if you’re standing still, then the whole world will pass you by. This advice can conflict with some of the traditional sayings regarding the wisdom of patience, such as:

  • “Good things come to those who wait”
  • “Patience is a virtue”
  • “Patience, grasshopper”

The caution here is not to throw out these time-honored adages of patience in today’s hyperactive environment, but to better understand what patience means.

To me, patience does not equate to inaction. Patience means thinking, being attentive, actively scanning the environment for strategic indicators, and reflecting. Patience suggests less talking and reacting. Instead, patience implies listening conscientiously to enable focus on the message being shared – whether through words, body language, or other forms of communication such as non-response.

Let me be clear on this: action is needed in leadership. However, as a leader, there is the need to briefly stop, pause, and think – especially in turbulent times.

Don’t think just about the next immediate action. Think deeper and more critically: what’s the possible ripple effect caused by your next immediate action?

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Leadership roles require a “chess game” mentality. If you make a move, what are the possible outcomes or repercussions of that move that you’ll have to deal with later? It doesn’t have to take long to process these strategic thoughts – some folks can do this in mere seconds. If your logic and your gut are telling you different things, pause and figure out why there is a gap.

The trick, though, is to not get stuck in analysis paralysis, waiting for the perfect set of conditions for everything to be crystal clear beyond a reasonable doubt. My experience has been that there is never a perfect time. You must understand what your criteria is for “good enough” to make your move. Furthermore, you don’t need to make all the moves at once. What’s the smallest incremental move you can take to give you greater confidence for the next step? Then move. Take action.

Who knows – you may likely need to take action to create the conditions that make the environment more ideal for you.

So, don’t think of patience as inaction. Patience gives you the permission and wisdom to take a slight necessary pause to think and reflect. Taking action for the sake of taking action can cause waste that you’ll have to clean up later. Knowing how to use (or create) the environment to make conditions more suitable for your outcomes (but not waiting for perfection) could be one key to both survive and thrive in a fast-moving, uncertain, and volatile world.

4 Counter-intuitive Tips to Increase Your Influence

Several times a day, you probably need other’s cooperation to get your job done. Maybe you need colleagues in the lab to regularly clean the lab equipment. Or you need the person assigned part-time to your project to really put in all the hours if you’re going to meet the mission-critical deadline. Perhaps you know the marketing strategy isn’t targeting the right audience, but you’re not sure the boss is listening.

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Gone are the days of command-and-control. For managers, it is no longer effective to just “order” an employee to “just do it.” Many managers have cross-functional responsibilities with no direct authority. Individual contributors are increasingly asked to accomplish tasks that require collaboration – so they need to influence others. Further, millennials are likely to disengage when “ordered,” preferring instead to be motivated and inspired. Science and engineering are often done in matrixed organizations that require collaboration to get complex tasks done, but rarely does one person have all the authority needed to do their job. Most organizations will either thrive or dive based on their ability to collaborate, create and innovate – none of which is driven by command-and-control.

So how do you get anything done? Although influence is as much an art as it is a science, it can be learned and developed. Work on these four counter-intuitive steps to begin increasing your influence.

Clarify Your Purpose

Many of us have counterproductive assumptions about influence. One of my coaching clients thought influence meant getting more for yourself and being selfish. Another saw it as trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do. If this is what you’re thinking, then the other person probably knows it – or can at least feel it. And they don’t want to be fed (what they perceive as) your selfish agenda or do something they don’t want to do.

However, when I ask my clients about their deeper purpose we often find a much richer tapestry. One client felt strongly that a molecule she had isolated had potential to address a hard-to-treat disease. She was trying to influence her boss to dedicate time to explore it more. Another saw great potential for his organization to serve the community. He wanted the board to adopt a more ambitious agenda. As we dug into what they really wanted, their intentions were linked to the larger good of their organization or community. So tap into your larger purpose. It’s not only more motivating for you, it’s more motivating for others, too.

Get into Their Head

When we feel strongly about something, we think we’re right and we see all the relevant facts. So, we want to just tell them what they need to do, why it’s important, and have them go do it. However, they probably don’t see it the way you do.

Before you even start, get curious about what’s going on for them. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do they think they should do?
  • Why would they want to do that?
  • What needs, desires, concerns does it serve?
  • What data or sources are they looking at that tells them it’s a good idea?

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Notice that the questions require more than just a yes/no reply. They are open ended questions that solicit lots of information. And you may learn things you didn’t know. So, think about what might be in their head and ask questions to really understand.

Don’t worry about getting it all right, and don’t worry if you don’t know. The point is to just get curious. Then begin your attempt to influence with questions. Really understand what’s going on for them. Once you understand – and they feel understood – your chances of influencing them go up, AND you’re more likely to reach an agreement that is even better than what you envisioned.

Pile on the Love

People want to be seen and appreciated. It’s a basic human need, and sorely missing in our workplaces. So when your coworker does something right, say “nice job”. When your boss asks for your feedback, say “thank you.” Make a point to regularly practice appreciation.

Without a doubt, this is the long-term approach to influence. No, you cannot go into your coworker’s office, drop an acknowledgement, and then immediately tell them what to do. But over time, people will come to appreciate that you see what they do. Then when you ask them to do something, you’ll have some rapport, trust, and respect to begin the process.

Step into Learning

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Getting better at influence is a learning process. Sure, some people are born charismatic and seem to be naturally persuasive. Most mortal humans, however, need to develop the skill. When you recognize an opportunity for influence, take some time to prepare. What would you like to do differently this time? What would you like to keep doing? What do you need to support the behavior change? Notice what happens. How do you feel? How does the other person respond? What do want to keep doing? What do you want to do differently? By taking even a few minutes to prepare and then reflect on what happened, you will begin building your influence muscle. And who knows, maybe someday you will make it look like you were born with the skill to influence.